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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

August 17, 2016

I’m a law firm partner and want to switch firms. Besides my book of business, what else can I do to increase my marketability?

Julie Q. Brush

When a lateral partner seeks to move his/her practice, the first items firm management assesses are the hard numbers. And there are lots of them: Fees billed, fees collected, write-offs, realization rates, originations, working attorney numbers, billable hour rates, rack rates, discounted rates, billable hours, non-billable hours, business development hours, and compensation…numbers, numbers and more numbers. And a three to five year history of all these numbers to boot.

Next up: The Clients. Who are they, what industry, nature of the relationship, length of the relationship, portability, yearly revenue…and specifics on matters, cases and deals. Step 3: The Creds. Academic credentials and law firm history – sizing up the quality of both. Finally, The Strategic Fit. Where does this person’s practice fit in with the office/firm? Are their synergies with other practices? What value will this lawyer bring to the firm?

It’s all pretty clinical. Or is it? Is there anything else a partner can do outside of the hard numbers, the portable clients, the creds and the strategic fit assessment to boost his/her attractiveness in the market? Yes.

It’s called The Business Plan.

If done right, the lateral partner business plan can be a material asset to a partner’s candidacy. And in my opinion, if you create one, it’s got to be your best stuff. Thoughtful. Strategic. Detailed. Well written. Persuasive. A business plan can tell your story and articulate your value, your goals and the detailed steps you are going to take to reach them. It can help the firm connect with a partner candidate, better understand his/her candidacy and make the partner a safer bet in the eyes of firm management. In fact, some firms now require a business plan as part of the application process – which is a trend I believe will continue…and should.

So what exactly is a business plan and what should it include? There is a lot to say about this topic, and if I went into the level of detail to truly satisfy The Lawyer Whisperer group members; my post would read more like a novella. So for now, I will provide a high level suggested list and will save my novella for another time:

  1. Narrative of your background – i.e. your story and explanations for past moves or why you are seeking to move your practice now.
  2. 1 year, 2 year and 5 year estimated productivity goal ranges.
  3. Your specific goals to develop business and the avenues you are going to take to hit your targets: i.e. mining existing contacts, creating new relationships (internally and externally), cross marketing with specific firm clients, writing articles/blogs/books, speaking on panels, joining industry groups, participating on boards, community involvement, leveraging video, TV and other regular and social media. Think outside the box too – and remember…be specific! You’ve got one chance to make a good impression. If you are too vague or high level, your candidacy will be compromised.
  4. Identify all the contacts you plan to tap for business. Provide names, companies and titles. Also note the nature and history of these relationships and likelihood of developing business from each. Include estimated revenue numbers and timeframes for reaching these goals. If any of your contacts are willing to confirm they will send you business, provide their contact information to the firm and have them get in touch at the appropriate time.
  5. References. If any of your contacts (who are giving you or plan to give you business) are willing to back up what you are purporting on paper, include these clients as references and invite the firms to get in touch directly.
  6. Provide specific action items for your first 30, 60, 90 days, 6 months and 1st year you are at the new firm.

A great business plan can be an asset and serve to elevate marketability of a candidacy. It’s one of the rare tools you have within your control that can make a difference. Can it overcome large deficiencies or objections? Probably not. But it can enhance a candidacy and tip the scales in your favor if you’re on the edge. And as you start the next chapter of your career, don’t forget to use this great tool you’ve created to move your practice to the next level. It’s just the roadmap you’ll need…to build the practice you’ll need for years to come.

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